by Vanessa Montalban (@VVMontalban)

Editor: Elizabeth Buege (@ekbuege)
YA Science Fantasy


Eighteen-year-old Tethys Serus can navigate the black waves of space, cut a beast in half with her hooked swords and break a man’s pinky before he can finish his indecent remark. She craves nothing more than to captain her own vessel and seek revenge for the massacre of her family.

Four years ago, Tethys was recruited by the Acquisition—a resistance militia fighting against those who enslaved her planet and killed her parents. Ignoring her uncle’s warnings that the cause is only after power and control, she has embraced their brutal training and discipline intended to help channel her anger and break her of her weaknesses. But after finally getting what she wants—a title, a ship, and a purpose—Tethys discovers her uncle has gone missing, his ship burned to the ground. With all signs pointing back to the Acquisition, Tethys leaves in search of answers and the only family she has left.

Disillusioned with the cause she once trusted, Tethys follows the clues left behind by her uncle only to have a prince with a bounty on his head crash land in her path. The last thing she needs is a pampered boy to look after, but she quickly discovers their paths all lead toward the same end—a confrontation with the conqueror who murdered her family, now after Prince Rhynian and his planet’s secrets. Despite Tethys’ need for revenge, the prince’s fiery kindness starts to thaw her icy heart, and she finds herself sucked into the quest of regaining the prince’s planet, where magic and dangers lurk. Together they must race to stop the conqueror from unleashing an ancient power hidden within its soil or risk her taking over the entire galaxy.

BEYOND A SEA OF STARS is a YA science fantasy complete at 93,000. It may appeal to readers of M.K. England’s The Disasters and Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy’s Once & Future. I was previously represented by Corvisiero Literary Agency until my agent left the industry, but this manuscript has never been on submission. I’m a current student graduating this year with a Bachelor’s degree in English.

First Five Pages


Anyone who truly understood me would know why I chose her as my ship.

I press my palms against the cool, curved glass of the training room, a wild thrum stealing through my heart.

Outside, my ship hovers in a sea of stars—an art form of metal and synthetic wood docked in the space harbor along with the other war vessels. She stands as a regal old queen amidst the sharks, a decommissioned ship until I came and fought for her. A sun-gold metal crowns her stern, and from the rigid masts, a pearly mane of solar canvas swells as if captured clouds held her.

Today. After today’s final trial, what I’ve sacrificed for will be mine. Has to be mine. The title of captain, the finest ship in the galaxy, but most of all, the freedom of wide-open space.

My uncle’s voice seeps into my head. Can you find freedom in the promise of war, Tethys? Is it really worth the price?

I clench my eyes shut. This isn’t working. I came here to clear my head, not to muddle it. It’s too late for any regrets. Instead, I turn to the training room, throwing myself into my routine, handspringing through the hall like a forgotten spun coin. Sweat stings my eyes as I backbend onto my feet. At the center of the room, I stand over the magnetic-plated hexagon, coiling my hair into another tight hold.

“STES,” I say to the room’s holoassist, “activate the sword sequence with weighted sensory.”

“Trainee Tethys, good rising. Activating sword sequence with weighted sensory. Preference of qualaron hooks or matchu blades?” The training simulator’s voice fills the room.

“Is it really necessary to ask?” I always train with the same swords. I’m a woman of particular wants.

“Pulling previous records—qualaron hooks preference. Activating. Fruitful training, Tethys.”

“Thank you, STES—oh, and play something . . . angry.”

“Music activated.”

Breath blooms into my lungs. My insides are liquid fire with anticipation, fluid as my limbs slice through air. The long, curving beauty of twin hooked swords flickers to life in my outstretched palms. They’re like slivers of a moon. My fingers curl around the thin hilts with daggered pommels, knuckles hiding behind the crescent blades. The perfect angle to trap someone by the throat.

Not a second later, my muscles tense. My brain’s receptors trigger the weight of the holographic swords, a little too heavy—the actual blades are foam compared to these. But the extra weight makes it excellent for practice, so when I handle the real weapons, it’ll be like wielding lethal feathers.

I dance with them in my hands, focused on keeping the swords tucked close. Flowering them overhead, my wrists scream with a delicious ache they’ve grown used to. Diagonal slice upward, double slice left. Flip without the blades touching my skin. The simulator works to activate the appropriate noises of the swirling swords. Hooking the ends, I give one long-range swing. The music is at its highest peak, and my muscles shriek.

Thrust—and the sword flickers as it cuts through an unexpected opponent. My eyes widen as I take in Admiral Croan. His face holds a tinge of humor as the holographic weapon shuts off right through his neck.

“I believe I’m dead now,” he says in a voice of molten metal.

“STES, deactivate all,” I command swiftly, moving back to a distance I can catch my bearings. I haven’t seen the admiral in weeks. He left without a word or directive, heading another scouting mission he refused to let me join.

The youngest of the seven admirals strides to stand in front of me with a chiseled face of meteor rock. I take in the jaw framed with shadowy stubble and long hair artfully combed back, and for a moment, I forget my annoyance. Casting my gaze down, I press my right fist over my heart in salute.

“Admiral Croan, you’re back.” I rub my sweaty hands across my thighs. “Sorry. You’ve caught me by surprise.”

I glance up to meet his amused gaze, his mouth curved at the edge. “Please, Tethys. No need for formalities when we’re alone.”

Alone. A shiver gravitates down to my stomach when he reminds me. The last few times we’ve been alone have been different. I think we’ve both noticed the subtle change between us. There’s an awkward air as if each of us is constantly waiting to see what the other thinks. Last time I saw the admiral, he’d sat so close, voice so low and intimate. I will give you assignments once you graduate, he’d said. I promise. Whatever makes you happy. Well, I’m graduating now.

“Getting ready for your final, I see. And here I was hoping we’d have a chance of warming up together.” His mouth twists into a smile that manages to be both disapproving and devilish. It’s moments like these I remember he’s only a few years older than I am. Blood rushes to my face. It only widens his smile.

I look away. Staying silent seems the best option since I have no idea how to respond to him. The admiral patiently waits while I move under the ducts for the hydrating mist. My sweat evaporates with a blast of toasted air that smells of burnt plastic and something I can never pinpoint but that never fails to stand my hairs on end.

“I have something for you,” he says.

“For me?” I ask, bracing. The only thing he’s ever given me has been a good beating on the mat. I’m not sure if it’s flattering or unfortunate that he doesn’t spar with many others.

The admiral nods. It’s then I follow his pointed gesture to the package he’s left by the entry. I eye him curiously but follow him to the large, rectangular box made of light wood with gentle etchings. The rustic craftsmanship screams different from all the glossy metal and glass found aboard the Acquisition’s Firebrand starship.

He reaches down with a precise and fluid movement, but the energy around him mounts with tension. The deep blue fabric of his uniform stretches across his broad chest with an inhale as he stands back up with the box in hand.

“A gift. For your final trial.”

The wooden lid creaks open, and my jaw drops. I whip my gaze to the admiral's expectant face in disbelief and then down to the moon-touched beauty of the qualarons. Real ones. Gorgeous ones. This time, he laughs, and it’s a strange sound from the admiral’s mouth.

“That’s the most emotion I’ve seen from you in a while.”

My excitement dampens enough that I’m left scowling, and his lips turn sly as if to say, Ah, there’s the Tethys I know. The uptight, boring one. The walking, fighting corpse. The words everyone else throws at me. But the admiral has confessed before that this is one of the things he admires most. The genuine reactions, he says. The inability to force pleasantries. I never know how to explain to him that it isn’t a statement I’m aiming for—that I try to be like everyone else, but it’s as if my body doesn’t read those cues anymore, doesn’t respond the way I want.

I seek the swords again, smoothing my fingers over the hooked points and down the alathon metal that can cut through two men without staggering, ending at the lethal crescent blade attached to a red hilt.

Red? There’s hardly anything in that color here. The Acquisition sticks to the neutral shades of blues, grays, and browns. Red is too strong a reminder of our enemy’s blood.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he says. “But I requested it in that color. So you never forget why we fight.”

“They’re perfect. But what—”

“Tethys,” he interrupts in a hurry, as if racing cowardice. “I’d like to gift you with these qualarons, not just for all your hard work, for making it this far, but as a symbol of a unity.”

My heart stutters in my chest. I capture his gaze, which brims with respect and something else. Something I’ve caught from time to time, especially lately—it’s hungry and sends shivers racing up my spine. Though not entirely unpleasant, there’s a heat in the look I’m not sure I can match.

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